Working Together to Combat Child Labor

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
Loy Henderson Auditorium
Washington, DC
June 8, 2010

(Remarks as prepared)

Good morning. Following on the words of both Secretary Clinton and Secretary Solis, I would like to welcome you all – those of you seated in the audience today as well as those participating online in our “virtual” conference room – for what we hope will be a productive discussion on how we can work together even more effectively to combat exploitative child labor throughout the world.

I would also like to welcome Constance Thomas from the ILO's International Program to Eradicate Child Labor, which plays such a critical role in developing and implementing programs to combat abusive child labor. We appreciate your joining us for this U.S. event for World Day Against Child Labor.

Putting together such a conference is never an easy task – and we have a lot of people to thank today for their efforts. I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the American Federation of Teachers, No Limits Foundation, and the International Labor Rights Forum who are partnering with us for this event. Your leadership and assistance in bringing this event together has been invaluable.

We’d also like to thank the American Federation of Teachers and Coca-Cola for providing today’s lunch.

Finally, through video and the powerful artwork displayed throughout the conference area, we remind ourselves that this day is ultimately about bettering the lives of children across the globe. I would like to thank Artworks Project and Goodweave, formerly Rugmark, for providing the images of children that are on display just outside the auditorium in the Delegate’s Lounge and Media Voices for Children for facilitating the video clips for each panel.

The ILO has noted in its most recent global report that there are still 215 million child laborers throughout the world today, 115 million of whom are exposed to hazardous work. As Secretary Clinton just noted in her video remarks, we must all work to end the exploitation of children, whether it occurs on the other side of the world or here in the United States. Though progress has been made, there is still quite a bit that remains to be done.

The US Government, in particular our colleagues at the Department of Labor, has been a leader in combating exploitative child labor internationally. As both Secretaries Clinton and Solis have noted, we remain more committed than ever to continuing to this noble and important cause.

To achieve our ambitious aims, we must use all the tools at our disposal to drill down and address the root causes of child labor – recognizing that programs and policies that promote economic development, access to education, and effective governance all play a role in the effective elimination of exploitative child labor. Protecting children's rights should be at the heart of our broader struggle to promote human rights, development, human security and rule of law for all peoples.

I doubt that anyone in the audience today is opposed to the goal of coordination on these issues. Yet important gaps in coordination remain. We need to think innovatively about how we can strengthen linkages between programs and policies and extend partnerships with a wide range of actors – including workers, employers, other governments, law enforcement, and civil society.

We will hear remarks from a broad range of experts today, who have so graciously given their time to share their thoughts and experiences with us. We need to view these insights as a starting point for a deeper discussion – among the panelists and the many experts we have in the audience as well – on how we build on the momentum of this year's World Day Against Child Labor to take decisive steps toward eliminating the worst forms of child labor by 2016.

We clearly have quite a bit of work ahead of us in tackling the issues I have just outlined. Luckily, we have with us today some of the world's most important experts and activists on the issue, and we have the full commitment of the many agencies represented here as well. With this combination, I am sure that we will have a very fruitful exchange of ideas and will take decisive steps to building even closer collaboration on combating exploitative child labor.